Cate Blanchett Honors Agent of 19 Years: "I Would Be An Unformed Piece of Amoebic Jello Without You"
Power players, power speeches and chic threads dominated Wednesday's Crystal + Lucy Awards.
Cate Blanchett holds many titles. She's a mother, a movie star, a fashion icon, an Oscar winner and the list could go on and on. But without her agent of 19 years, CAA's Hylda Queally, Blanchett said she could be described in a short, rather unique way.
"I would be an unformed piece of amoebic Jell-O without you," Blanchett quipped from the ballroom stage inside the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Wednesday night during Women in Film's annual Crystal+Lucy Awards. "You are an uber agent without compare, and as important and essential as that relationship is to my life, you are my dear, dear friend."
The details of their friendship and professional partnership were unveiled during both Blanchett's presentation and Queally's speech as she picked up one of the night's highest honors, the Sue Mengers Award, at the Max Mara- and BMW-presented affair. It was an evening filled with stars like Claire Danes and Kate Beckinsale, coupled with powerful speeches from honorees like Taraji P. Henson, director Lesli Linka Glatter and a string of Hollywood power producers like Denise Di Novi, Lauren Shuler Donner, Lucy Fisher, Lianne Halfon, Jane Rosenthal and Lynda Obst. Natalie Dormer also picked up the Max Mara Face of the Future Award.
Blanchett started her speech by saying what a tough task it was for her to sum up someone she loves so much. "It's even more difficult when that person has been very much a part of the fabric of your life for so long," she said. "I love and admire Hylda Queally in equal measure. She invests so deeply in everything she does. Hylda jokes about the fact that she would give those she loves a kidney. I worry that she would actually in fact do so, and throw her spleen and her gallbladder in for good measure. She certainly gives them her heart."
In return, a Givenchy-clad Blanchett handled her presentation duties like a pro, heaping praise on Queally for how she carries herself in all aspects of her life. She even noted how the glamorous power agent began her life without running water or a flushing toilet for the first 14 years. During their time together, Blanchett has won nearly every award the film community has to offer, including two Academy Awards from seven nominations.
Upon taking the stage, the CAA power agent thanked her longtime client for coming to L.A. from her home in England specifically for Queally's honor at the Women in Film event. "I love you with every fiber of my being," she said to her Oscar-winning star.
Then Queally had the room captivated when she recounted her humble beginnings, tracing her life's journey including a remarkable career trajectory. Growing up on a farm on the west coast of Ireland, Queally's mother was the youngest of eight girls, four of whom emigrated to the United States at the age of 14. Her grandmother lived with Queally's family all of her life, and she joked about her choice in decor. "On her bedroom wall hung two pictures, one was of President John F. Kennedy, the other one was of Jesus. The message was crystal clear to me: You have to go to America first in order to get into Heaven," she joked.
But before she too left Ireland for America, Queally built a steady agency business, working from a pay phone box in Dublin and representing theater and TV actors. Her most unique client? A hypnotist with "a mesmerizing work ethic." Her own work ethic could easily be paired with the same adjective.
"Like my aunts before me, I now, too, was an immigrant with the same dreams to work hard, make a living and provide for my family back home," she said. "Like immigrants in many parts of the world, I was welcomed with open arms, I encountered no walls."
Queally made herself look good by finding an open sector in the representation business and diving in head first. She launched an international division at Triad Artists. "Today I am proud to work with talent from the United States, Ireland, England, France, Belgium, Holland, Spain, Norway, Sweden, Kenya, India, China, Japan, New Zealand and of course Australia," she said. "The majority of course are incredible women. I do have some men but people don’t seem to realize that."
The list is long and impressive. Some of Queally's clients: Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, Jennifer Lopez, Lupita Nyong'o, Rose Byrne, Jessica Chastain, Daisy Ridley, Penelope Cruz, Matthias Schoenaerts, Rinko Kikuchi, Freida Pinto, Ben Whishaw and Catherine Deneuve.
"I appreciate that as agent to my clients, I not only represent them, I am their representative in the most literal sense," she explained. "I am the link between them and the industry. It’s a huge privilege and a great responsibility. I see my role as that of a partner with my clients. An uncredited producer, if you will."
She's also a mentor. Queally said that she has delivered speeches at colleges as well as internal CAA events, talking to interns and agent trainees. The first question every woman asks her is if it's possible to have a career and still have a family. "The answer should be yes," she said. Then she went on to detail a story from early in her career when a fellow agent noticed her new engagement ring, saying, "Nice diamond, but say goodbye to your career, honey."
"But I went ahead anyway," she remembered, adding that being a mother has been a strength, not a detriment. "A husband and three children, I’m still here. However, I had children at a time when I felt far more comfortable to say that my car had run out of gas or had some technical malfunction than to admit that my child was sick or in fact I wanted to attend a school event. I believe that in recent years, we have moved on from that way of thinking."
Queally thanked her husband, Brad, and her three children, Charlotte, Ryan and Myles, all of whom were in the audience along with her sister, Stephanie. She called them "my team, my foundation."
Of Hollywood's male-dominated foundation, Queally noted that she's not looking for women to overtake men completely. "This is not about one gender walking ahead or certainly not about one gender falling behind," she said. "It's about all of us walking side by side," she summed up.
Queally stood side-by-side with the night's other honorees, including eight power producers who were selected to receive the Crystal Award for Excellence in Film. Though Paula Wagner and Paula Weinstein were absent, Di Novi, Donner, Fisher, Halfon, Obst and Rosenthal attended to accept their awards in the nearly three-hour event, hosted by Chris Parnell and penned by Bruce Vilanch.
"Why have we, this gang of eight, survived and thrived?" asked Donner. "What can we pass down to these newcomers? Well, we’ve never given up when the chips were down. We’ve all had the sting of a flop, put on a happy face and [went] back to work. We all put family first because we know it’s important, and we keep our fears at bay. Don't make rejection personal. Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim. That was Nora Ephron's legendary advice and we took that to heart."
Di Novi mentioned how far the industry has come during her long tenure. "Twenty five years ago, I had to go to three bond companies to get my film secured because I was a woman producer," she said, before mentioning her directorial debut Unforgettable starring Katherine Heigl and Rosario Dawson. "This year, I directed a film, written by a woman, produced by a woman, executive produced by a woman, with a woman studio executive, and starring two women. We still have a long way to go from 4 percent to 50 percent, and that seems like a very long road. We’ve been crawling for many years. This year I feel it in my bones that we are running. We are sprinting up the hill and things are changing."
Danes, wearing Dolce & Gabbana, showed up to honor her Homeland director Glatter, who took home the BMW Dorothy Arzner Directors Award. "One of my favorite pastimes is watching Lesli watch the actors perform on the monitors in video village," she detailed. "Leaning forward, legs wide, hands on knees, her face is about two inches away from the screen. Her head bobs in unison with the actor. She grins when charmed, she cries when moved and will more than occasionally actually mouth the dialogue word for word. There’s no question that when Lesli is directing, the actor’s performance is being watched. It's being inhaled with rapturous appreciation. It’s no wonder that under her guidance we are able to do our strongest, bravest work. Her company, her psychic fusion emboldens us to venture into deep, uncharted, scary places."
Glatter then explained how she does that, by offering her directing bullet points for how to be a success in the business. Here they are: "Be tenacious, very tenacious, and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. Trust your instincts. Don’t pretend to know something you don't — you will get caught. Don't be afraid to be simple. Learn everyone’s name on the set on the very first day. Have a huge BS detector. Wear comfortable shoes, which I’m not right now. Don't worry about things you can't control. Worry about the things you can. Be tender. Give back every day and remember you are very lucky to be doing what you are doing. Lastly: Reapply lipstick. You don't have to give up being a woman to do the job."
'HOMELAND' HOMIES: Lesli Linka Glatter, wearing Max Mara, and actress Claire Danes, wearing Dolce & Gabbana, pose with the BMW Dorothy Arzner Directors Award during the Women In Film 2016 Crystal + Lucy Awards presented by Max Mara and BMW at the Beverly Hilton on June 15, 2016. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Women In Film)
It's a blueprint that Women in Film no doubt stands behind as the organization moves ahead in 2016 with the theme of Wednesday's event, "Designing Change," at the front of mind. "We are on a mission to change the gender imbalance that is endemic to the entertainment industry; to design a more inclusive business for all women in the film, television and digital creative arenas. The women we honor this year are all catalysts for that change and exemplars in their fields," said Cathy Schulman, president of Women in Film.
Many of the night's honorees touched on the difficult balance of being a working mother, but Fisher said she had a story to help those struggling to make it work. "Literally, not a week goes by without one of our 20-something daughters — now on their own way home from their own long day at work — calling to say how lucky she feels that she had a working mom," said Fisher in reference to her children with her producing partner husband Doug Wick. "Turns out what they remember most was not the carpools we missed or the phone calls we took when we shouldn’t have, but they do remember is having watched all of us fight. Sometimes winning, sometimes losing, but always getting up to try again."
POWER PLAYERS: Kate Beckinsale, center, poses with Crystal Award for Excellence in Film honorees, left to right, Jane Rosenthal, Lynda Obst, Lauren Shuler Donner, Lianne Halfon, Denise Di Novi and Lucy Fisher at the Women In Film 2016 Crystal + Lucy Awards presented by Max Mara and BMW at the Beverly Hilton on June 15, 2016. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
FRESH FACES: Honoree Natalie Dormer accepts the Women in Film Max Mara Face of the Future Award from Max Mara Brand Ambassador Nicola Maramotti at the Women In Film 2016 Crystal + Lucy Awards presented by Max Mara and BMW atthe Beverly Hilton on June 15, 2016. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Women In Film)